By Josef Omorotionmwan
WE welcome our President back from Uganda. Our President has outgrown being assessed by the company he keeps.
He remains one man in modern history who was almost elected by unanimous consent and he cannot be caught so soon undergoing apprenticeship in the sit-tight syndrome, even when he has been seen hobnobbing with some not-so-democratic elements.
President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was being sworn in for a sixth five-year tenure and this was one man that was most critical of his predecessors in office – Milton Obote and strongman, Idi Amin – for staying long in office.
We do not know how comfortable our President was on an occasion in which the only other known President was Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, one man who is running neck to neck with Museveni in the art of staying put in office!
But for their current travails, other leaders that would have been taking a front seat on the occasion would have been Laurent Gbagbo, Mubarak, Gaddafi and the likes. No harm was meant. After all, what is good for Uganda and Zimbabwe may not necessarily be good for Nigeria. But it will not escape us to ask: What was our man doing there, anyway? This is an aside.
Just last week, this writer was engaged in a dialectical somewhere else with Ben Egede, a renowned Professor of English on the subject of whether the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, scheme should be scrapped, particularly in the face of the serial killings of our youths deployed on national assignment to some parts of the North. Soon after inauguration, the incoming National Assembly is likely to stretch its first fingers to this area.
Unarguably, the initial reaction of most people to the mindless killings of the NYSC members deployed up North was one of angst and outright rage. That was when people called for the immediate disbandment of the NYSC scheme.
After anger died down and reason began to assume its rightful place, the number of people calling for the scrapping came down.
It is now clear that the atrocities had nothing to do with geography and everything to do with the madness of a few idiots. In my defence of the programme, I pointed to the fact that not many were as pained as Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State who openly vowed that he was going to personally shoot the idiots who perpetrated the atrocities.
It is, however, instructive that while Prof and I travelled our opposite directions, we ended up at the same point. In my argument that the NYSC programme must not be scrapped, I went down memory lane on how my service year remains the best that I have spent on mother earth and concluded: “On the issue of national unity and cohesion, there can be no better programme than the NYSC”.
Remember that these mindless killers have not restricted their escapade to the NYSC members. They have attacked Christians. Shall we abolish Christianity? They have attacked policemen. Shall we abolish the police force? And if, indeed, a few traders got drowned at the River Niger, would we abolish the Onitsha market? The obvious answer to these questions is a categorical NO.
I then concluded that rather than scrap the NYSC programme, we should return to the drawing board and fashion out how to make the scheme work better….
And for now, let members be restricted to their geopolitical zones for service.
Prof led his audience through the good intentions of the founding fathers of the NYSC scheme but questioned if it had not outlived its usefulness in the face of the inexplicable provocation, a morbid desire for wanton destruction of life and property, almost always in a gory, premeditative fashion…. He finally concluded that if the scheme is to stay, “it should be decentralized, to confer on it a regional or geo-political essence…”.
So soon, it is clear that our joint position of last week will now benefit from further amendment. The moment the NYSC loses its national character, it is dead. Any amendment to the NYSC law must first seek to find how we can coexist as a people. It made sense that reprisal was ruled out in the last pogrom; otherwise we would have been busy here killing innocent Northerners who have coexisted peaceably with us over the years.
The idea of regionalization is neither here nor there. How many citizens of Kaduna State would rather have their children killed by Bauchi people instead of being killed by Calabar people? Even within the geo-political conclave, until recently, how many Edo people would have been happy to dispatch their children to Abia State during the reign of kidnappers? Until recently, too, we are not sure if the Christian people of Ife would not have been happier seeing their wards dispatched to Muslim Zamfara instead of neighbouring Christian Modakeke. What then is the hue and cry about regionalization?
A meaningful reform of the NYSC can be achieved only within an integrated context: First, violence must be accepted as a national phenomenon and treated as such. Second, if the NYSC is to regain its credibility, we must develop the will to deal decisively with every one involved in the mindless killing of our youths. Holding the small guys when the big masterminds are walking our streets in freedom will not help the situation.
Third, the issue of unemployment must be addressed squarely. It is doubtful if a youth who worked on the assembly line all night can have enough energy reserve to engage in violence during the day. A society that has its youths roaming the streets must also accept the consequences of their idleness.